HIghlands and Islands MSP, Jamie McGrigor, today emphasised the importance of the historic environment to the economy of the Highlands & Islands.
The MSP was speaking in a Holyrood debate on the Scottish Government’s Historic Environment Strategy and plans to merge Historic Scotland with the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historic Monuments of Scotland (RCAHMS).
He said: ‘In terms of the merger of Historic Scotland with the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historic Monuments of Scotland (RCAHMS), we are generally supportive of moves to streamline government agencies and bodies and minimise administration and bureaucracy.
‘But the important and specialist services provided by RCAHMS must be preserved and nurtured when it becomes part of the larger Historic Scotland. A number of members have rightly raised some concerns around how this might be done and around other issues related to how the merger will affect both organisations, including rebranding.
‘As we have heard, a number of these concerns were voiced during this summer’s consultation and I ask Ministers to address these.
‘Members today have recognised the critical importance of Scotland’s historic environment in terms of our culture, how Scotland is perceived around the world and, as a very significant driver of our economy and source of employment.
‘This is especially so in my region of the Highlands & Islands where hundreds of thousands of tourists flock to see such a wonderful and diverse range of attractions ranging from the Blackhouse at Arnol on the isle of Lewis, to the Neolithic settlement of Skara Brae in Orkney, to the iconic castles of Dunrobin, Dunvegan, Eilean Donan, Mey, Cawdor and Inveraray to name but a few.
‘I myself live relatively near to Inveraray Castle in Argyll, distinguished as one of the best examples of Gothic revivalist architecture in the world and know that it, combined with the beautiful planned village of Inveraray done by Robert Adam, is an integral part of the economy of Argyll & Bute.
‘This weekend the Best of the West festival takes place at the castle and I would strongly encourage people to attend this excellent event.
‘Attracting high spending foreign visitors, traditionally from North America and continental Europe but increasingly from the BRIC countries, is fundamental to the future of our tourism sector.
‘While quite a bit of the focus of the debate today has been about Historic Scotland & RCHAMS- and I join other members in congratulating all those who work for Historic Scotland on their highly impressive visitor numbers this year- in preparing for today I got in contact with a former chairman of the Historic Houses Association for Scotland.
‘She emphasised the need, in terms of our historic castles and houses, to achieve a balance between maximising visitor numbers and maintaining the brand at the high end. She also made the very valid point that individually owned and independently maintained historic properties, some of which are after all the jewels in the crown of architectural and historic tourism, must be able to compete on a level playing field with ones run by Historic Scotland and that the approach to permissions, grant aid, marketing assistance and the like must be on a par with the approach and benefits which the Historic Scotland properties might enjoy now and in the future.
‘She also recommended the collaborative working approach across the historic environment and tourism sectors.’